Surfaces Reporter - Rising Star Akshat Bhatt Architecture Discipline

Rising Star Akshat Bhatt Architecture Discipline

Architecture Discipline was started in 2007 by Architect Akshat Bhatt with a vision to create integrated projects, that were contemporary, contextually charged & considerate of the overall built environment from tactile quality to serviceability & advance regional forms of expression. One of his recent projects include the prestigious ‘Make in India’ pavilion at Hannover Messe 2015. The project was announced as the best pavilion in the 65 year history of the Messe.

SR - Tell us about Architecture Discipline. How do you define your design process?

Akshat Bhatt - We work with value system defined by simple principles: People, Context, Legibility, Flexibility, Cultural & Environmental responsibility. These are addressed as architectural issues (we‘re not social activists). (The strange thing about being a successful architect is that you’re expected to design a build-able intervention, if you do, you probably won’t earn a living!)

We believe architecture should be in dialogue with itself; this allows space for lateral thinking during conception, construction and even after completion. It should move, not in the same way as Calatrava’s work, but in a way that indicates untiring transformation. A kind of Here-Then-Now & Beyond. Creating an intrinsic but coherent dialogue is our endeavour (for the Ranakpur project - a city dwellers intervention outside the metropolis).

Polyrhythms & dissonance are used for compositions as are relaxed or suspended terminations resulting in experientially complex spaces with a scale that’s difficult to capture (and unfortunately even more difficult to photograph). This is different from traditional composition architecture wherein every movement has a termination & the rhythm is proportioned so we use a lot of physical study models, diagrams & dialogue.

Material selection is given some thought with reference to the culture of a place and environmental impact, but the composition and overall communication takes precedence.

I do think the unconventional approach to composition coupled with a considered material strategy makes most people believe we are a material driven studio, but this isn’t true. To illustrate my point all you have to do is imagine ‘Mana’ with white rendered walls. There is a lot of experience based research on engineering systems & building services, we have drawn from multiple disciplines. Every significant innovation is expressed. Most significant, we believe in virtuosity. In order to achieve that, every project must have a strong emotive origin & a bespoke process for communication.

SR - What led to the creation of your firm?

Akshat Bhatt - I started Architecture Discipline in 2007, because I couldn’t find an equal opportunity architectural practice to work with in India. We wanted to make integrated projects, that were contemporary, contextually charged & considerate of the overall built environment from tactile quality to serviceability & advance regional forms of expression.

SR - The project that kick started your career:

Akshat Bhatt - The Ranakpur project I guess. It was our first project.

SR - Work of International & Indian architects you admire:

Akshat Bhatt - I like works of the British High Tech architects, Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano. More recent additions to our influences are Thomas Heatherwick & the Burolliec brothers.

Amongst the Indian architects I admire the early works of AP Kanvinde, Laurie Baker, JA Stein, the early & late works of Charles Correa.

If you look deep enough & seriously enough, there’s something to learn from every successful professional.

SR - With technology having gained much momentum in the architectural design scene, how much importance is laid upon drawing and sketching skills in your firm?

Akshat Bhatt - We sketch, a lot, but an architectural sketch isn’t necessarily a pretty picture, it’s a communication tool within the studio. Ideation & deliberation are important for all design and creative processes. I still feel it’s important to redraw an idea over & over to distil or mature it. Hand drawings help understand scale & size. As a result, every project starts as a series of drawings on paper, moves on to a study model before being draughted on the computer. The computer helps in drawing management, editing & co-ordination especially on large or complex projects where different people have to enter coordinated data.

SR -  Best architectural site you have visited:

Akshat Bhatt - I make an effort to visit, often re-visit the projects I like, some are chance discoveries. I really liked the Barcelona Pavilion, Villa Savoye, Parc De La Vilette, the Centre Pompidou, the Paul Klee Museum, St.Pauls, the Gothic Cathedral at la Ramblas. There’s treasure everywhere.

SR - Materials that you love to work with or aspire to work with.

Akshat Bhatt - Material culture is an essential part of design, every place, program & structure suggests an appropriate palette, that’s what we explore though our investigations. Every material in turn suggests an expression, that has to do with construction technology & the designers technique. We’re happy to use things that reduce environmental impact through the fundamentals of reduced consumption. But, we steer away from material fetish that’s a trap & often an intellectual limitation.

SR -  Tell us a bit about the designing process that led to the Make in India theme Pavilion at Hannover Messe.

Akshat Bhatt -  Doing something that represents a nation especially your own motherland is an emotionally charged experience, the energy that drives people while working on such a project is at a completely different level. It’s important to understand that & focus that energy to create something meaningful, intense & in our case remarkable build quality. It took a few days to truly sink in, after which, I didn’t really sleep for forty days straight. It was like going back to architecture school in terms of work-life-sleep equilibriums. Anyone who’s been through it understands what I’m talking about.

But we were determined to establish new benchmarks for such projects. We received tremendous support from all quarters especially the DIPP which was the government agency responsible for the pavilion. The program changed innumerable number of times, the Indian & German security details demanded changes & even last minute changes, minor policy changes dictated changes sometimes in detail & a few in overall strategy. Here I feel it is important to say, that we designers are often resistant to change, that’s sometimes driven by personal agenda, often because a change unsettles the design / execution strategy. It’s important to rationalize the change, often rationalize it even for the client. If all involved are reasonable & understand the real need (which an untrained professional cannot explain spatially or diagrammatically) it can contribute to the design in a meaningful way.

“It took a few days to truly sink in, after which, I didn’t really sleep for forty days straight.”

The overall planning strategy of the pavilion has been documented but I’ll touch upon it. We were conscious of representing one of the oldest cultures in the world that is poised to make a significant change in its industrial future.

The Make in India pavilion at Hannover Messe 2015 showcased the magnitude of India’s potential as a manufacturing and investment partner. It demonstrated advancements across industrial sectors on the bedrock of its rich culture and idiom. History and memory were the two vital aspects of the design strategy. The pavilion design adapted and created new design traditions, documenting its historical precursors while understanding the essence of progress. The symbols were chosen on the basis of their inherent quality that acted as a resource for the design technology. The pavilion’s geometry was rooted in the Navgriha and Vaastu principles, representing India’s profound tradition of peaceful progress. The Chakra, deconstructed to create a four-petal flower form, invokes immediate nostalgia. Each petal transformed into an exhibition pod, with vibrant displays of data, infographics and installations that illustrated the vast range of opportunities India had to offer.

Elements were extracted from India ’s material memory. Indigen ous materials such as brass, wood, textile and metal evoke the country’s legacy of craftsmanship. A patterned carpet depicts the dyeing the technique of ikat, while the pods, texturized with woven fabric, remind us of India ’s high ly skilled chataai weaver s. The backdrop walls used the Indian jaali or lattice, rendered in glass and steel to give it a modern edge. Contemporary materials were utilized to build traditional pattern s and motifs, setting the stage for creating new memories and histories. The pavilion di stilled India ’s past, summarized its present capabilities and envisioned its promising future

The pavilion’s information design (created by Wieden & Kennedy Delhi) showcased the economic potential of the country’s most fertile sectors—biotechnology, renewable energy, space, IT & BPM, industrial corridors and smart cities, wellness, development of the north-east region—and the demographic dividends it hopes to reap. A prominent section was dedicated to Indo-German alliances. Major national programs such as Skill India and Digital India were also represented.

53 Silver Oaks

The client wished to accommodate a large public space and a combination of several kinds of guest rooms, on a site that mandated that no windows could overlook either of the long sides. He also wanted the building to imbibe the unique qualities of the mid-century modernism that put post-independent Indian architecture on the global map.

The principal entrance leads to a generous subterranean space designated as the main public areas. The glass walls of this light-filled space are set in, detached from the peripheral retaining walls, eliminating the sense of being underground by creating deep horizontal views and negating any impact of possible dampness.

On the upper floors, an efficient combination of suites and rooms are organized around a central vertical movement core, emphasized by the stark geometry of the stair. Skylights and atriums bring light directly into what is almost an ephemeral space, consisting of translucent and reflective surfaces, multiplying the light by reflecting. The screen (or the Indian jaali) is a marvellous architectural device, reduced somewhat unfortunately to a mostly decorative element in the contemporary scenario. Adapted to a contemporary interpretation, here, it is used to keep out the glare of the sun, moderate the interior temperature, whilst all the while providing a uniform subtle light quality in interior spaces. The objective was to wrap the structure in a thin, light, perforated screen so that the structure itself could be lighter and free from supporting the weight of unnecessarily heavy interior and exterior partitions.

The patterns of the perforations are not simple repetitive modules; instead they are seemingly random until viewed together, when they coalesce into an overall composition. Further, the mesh creates a Uniform envelope around the building, whilst creating a dynamic play within by enabling a play of shadows internally, yet ensuring privacy from the road by creating a significantly clear architectural product. The skin also facilitates a peak into the outside world, while bringing in filtered views of the trees inside through corridors, creating a controlled engagement for the occupier vis-à-vis the neighbourhood.

Nearly all of the walls are made of double insulated glass units, eliminating privacy concerns with respect to noise. The steel frame itself was designed for maximum lightness, with bracing provided by diagonal members, their geometry expressed through the glass. Not only does this allow maximum flexibility, it enables easy maintenance by nearly eliminating repeated painting. The metal frame is finished with aircraft grade non VOC paint. The steel joists that hold up the deck slabs are visible within the guest rooms. The main load bearing columns are expressed through the public spaces as slender elements. An insulated roof increases the thermal mass of the building, while the glass walls allow it to quickly cool in the evening. The interior furniture in solid oak wood, stained in a Scandinavian fadeis designed to complement the interiors and reflect the environmental concerns of the property.

Since the building would eventually be used as a transitional space for most guests, it was imperative to design the services to take decades of wear and tear without needing costly maintenance or routine supervision. Plumbing, lighting and air conditioning were conceptualised within the framework of the building at an early stage including systems like pressurized water supply, solar hot water generators with recycling pumps, rainwater harvesting etc. As Gurgaon is prone to long power cuts, the use of split power generators aid in the reduction of running costs. Every mundane decision was re-examined, whether it was the room lighting, where single dimmable fixtures were chosen for the efficiency, user customization or the common areas, and backlit architectural fabrics are used for dramatic effect. This fabric also finds use in the headboards of the rooms and the ceilings, minimizing maintenance.

A professional kitchen situated in the basement caters to the entire building. The boundary wall, otherwise a banal necessity in the urban context of Gurgaon, has been transformed into an animated part of the building by incorporating a retractable planted screen, enabling a dynamic expression of the plants from the back to the basement. At night, the varying pattern of the retractable blinds animates the ordered elements, while during the day the shadows of the surrounding trees play out on the façade, reflecting their movement.

Name of Project: 53 Silver Oaks
Project Type: Corporate Guest House, Gurgaon, Haryana
Completion Date: Jan-Feb 2014
Site Area: 500 square yards
Built-Up Area: 10, 750 square feet

Naji Aerotechnic

Crafting a high-end, distinctive office space for a client engaged in manufacturing non-avionic components for the airline industry, the requirement was to create an engaging office for two principals, the team of 8-10 people, a clean room and a meeting room in an area of about 1100 sq.ft. The site occupies an unusually angular corner. There were no wet areas, the space was divided and there was minimal daylight from a dark curved glass (no possibilities of upgrading) towards one edge of the space.

The first intervention was to open up the area by removing the dividing partitions. A dark grey wall interfaces between the common public area and the space, relieved only by a broad glass door into which the signage is integrated. As one enters, two dynamic walls of multiwall polycarbonate sheet create a complex field of view, where ceilings descend into walls and fold, twist and bend. Supported on a diagrid metal frame, these undulating walls create the parti – a sinous, snaking central space that is flanked by work areas with varying degrees of enclosure. The floor, although static in its horizontality, is composed entirely of distorted triangles in muted shades that further animate the space.

The high ceiling was primarily left exposed and painted a dark grey to disappear behind the floating pendant lamps that are scattered through the office. These concentrate light on the polycarbonate walls, the light shimmering as it reflects and refracts through the cross grained double layers. An oddly-shaped meeting room, wrapped in a double layer of acrylic with a further, strange-shaped table inspired by the section of an aircraft wing is conceived at the heart of the office.

Neelsutra India Fashion

As an extension of the series of multi-designer pret stores, where the collections are themed and curated, Neel Sutra- the India Fashion store at Khan Market is emblematic of Indian Design ethos, in line with the inherent colonial character of one of the oldest markets in New Delhi. The building was painted all white, with only blue (neel in hindi) on the louvered windows. The interior experience for the garments to be showcased has been neutralized to a single predominant colour- Blue. This transgresses as a continuous notion, in the form of a wave from the walls on to the hand-placed parquet floor that is also stained in azure blue. To break away from the monotony of the colour, neutral perforated boards on the walls are created to allow for a visual break. The display /shelving system is also a simple evolution of what already exists in the precedent of the Neel Sutra at the New Oberoi, and the sarees are arranged in a unique configuration with trays at various angles. This forms an engagement with the architectural space itself, allowing the visitor to engage with the saree while engaging with the space simultaneously.

Akshat_Bhatt-Neelsutra India Fashion

Akshat_Bhatt-Neelsutra India Fashion
Akshat_Bhatt-Neelsutra India Fashion3

Project - Neelsutra India Fashion Store - Retail
Khan Market, New Delhi, Site Area - 2,500 sq.ft.

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